Transforming those old houses into new homes



That term ‘property porn’, was new to me until it came up prior to the launch of  TV architect Dermot Bannon’s new series of Room To Improve where he helps transform humdrum homes. Bannon admitted that he might be to blame for people feeling inadequate when they didn’t have aspirational homes.

Call it what you like but I am a total voyeur when it comes to seeing what lies beyond the front door of houses. Whether it’s Cheap Irish Homes where Mary Molloy finds bargain gems for prospective home owners, or the BBC’s Escape To The Country where urbanites long to move to rural areas or Phil and Christie’s Location And Location or Love It Or List It – where homeowners choose between their transformed gaff or opt for a new pad – I watch for my fix of property porn.

For me it’s about more than the houses, it’s about that magic reaction between people and bricks and mortar which says this could be home. It’s also about the location, the views or the setting in an appealing garden.  But there is also an element of guilt in remembering the thousands of people who are denied the possibility of an affordable home of their own due to the housing crisis.

Back to Dermot Bannon, I simply had to watch the first episode of his programme on RTE. It turns out to be a heartwarming and inspiring story about a young couple who have set out to restore an abandoned 200 years old farmhouse and who hope to add an extension, all on a shoestring budget. Enter Bannon like the fairy Godmother with sympathetic advice and the good news that, thanks to the recently increased vacant homes grant, they can just manage to realise their dream home.

The result,  after lots of consultation and drama  along the way, is gorgeous, the kind of transformation that evokes a Wow or OMG response from anyone who visits.

Bannon and his team had wisely got a briefing from the housing department on the grant beforehand, which gave rise to accusation that the department had made use of the programme to publicise the increased grant. Who cares? Both the increased grant and the programme are a great way to encourage people to rescue old houses and create new homes.

There are thousands of examples around Ireland of abandoned houses that could be transformed with the help of grants, imagination and, yes, hard work in a worthwhile step towards mending the housing crisis. There is one regular 40k drive I take, half an hour from Galway, where I spot 10 or so doer-uppers beside the road not to mention a development of more than a dozen holiday cottages in need of TLC and residents.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. launching Labour’s campaign to tackle vacancy and dereliction, Labour leader Ivana Bacik quoted a figure of 200,000 vacant properties nationwide with 5,000 in Dublin alone.

Part of the explanation for these neglected properties lies in the habit, common in rural parts, of abandoning an old home back in the day and building a new bungalow nearby. (Funny enough, these bungalows have now become the objects of makeovers in a TV programme My Bungalow Bliss presented by architect Hugh Wallace). Another factor is past emigration and the hollowing out of the centres of villages and small towns.

Talking of which, the Department of Rural and Community Development are attempting to put the heart back into these communities with the Town And Rural Village Scheme TVRS, now in its second year. Designed to revitalise rural Ireland with €4.5 million funding it grants, €500,000 to local authorities to purchase buildings like former Garda stations or schools for local use with a new lease of life such as IT hubs or community halls.

Pity the scheme isn’t bigger and how about a scheme to bring life back to all those blind and vacant windows, over the shops in rural areas and back into use as homes? Also given the housing crisis, why on earth can’t residential log cabins qualify for planning permission? They are affordable, can be put up in a matter of weeks and built of a renewable resource.

Opting for a doer upper and qualifying for a grant of up to €70,000, providing regulations are met and owners are prepared for hard work, can be hugely rewarding.

The transformation of old houses not only provides new homes but can increase their value significantly.


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